Benvenidos has always been an appropriate way to describe folks who live in El Paso. They are friendly, down to earth and welcoming. Like San Antonio, Houston and other Tex-Mex urban centers that dot the landscape, the population in El Paso is diverse while still retaining a unique hospitality usually found only in smaller towns. Families there have always felt safe, at least until an outsider violated their trust.
It’s been several weeks since El Paso was “invaded” by a sick lunatic who drove for 10 hours, armed with an assault rifle and hate in his heart. It was a premeditated plan with the worst of intentions. Upon arrival at his chosen destination, this misguided individual and author of a white supremacist manifesto was attracted to a Super WalMart/Sam’s Club on the outskirts of a large shopping mall. He entered the store, grabbed a bite to eat and noticed the throngs of Saturday morning, back-to-school shoppers. It was the perfect site to carry out his mission…to “kill as many Mexicans as possible.”
A total of 22 people, young and old, perished that day, including a reported eight Mexican nationals. They weren’t there to “invade” our country, but rather to shop and enjoy a family outing. That’s El Paso’s makeup, it’s roots and daily life shared with Ciudad Juarez across the border. The cities are economically and culturally intertwined. Just like San Diego and Tijuana, these border communities are basically two cities blended into one international metropolis.
WalMart intends to reopen the huge store that became ground zero for this tragedy, but not until it remodels the whole interior that will include a permanent memorial honoring the shooting victims who lost their lives. The project will take months, hopefully completed by Christmas. It’s a controversial subject, but the vast majority of folks want to see this happen.
“If we close it, they will win,” noted an El Paso resident. She was referring to the “invader,” a lone wolf domestic terrorist who remains isolated in jail and on suicide watch.
Meanwhile, everyone in this hard-working, blue-collar city are slowly trying to recover and pick up the pieces. Despite mixed reactions to President Trump’s recent visit, people here are appreciative of the love and support received from all over the country. Antonio Basco, whose wife and only family member was killed in the shooting, was overwhelmed with emotion when about 700 visitors attended the funeral services, most who never knew the victim. Hala Hijazi traveled from San Francisco to attend the ceremony and console a grieving Mr. Basco.
“When I heard about his loss, it pierced my heart and soul and I had to book a flight to El Paso,” revealed Hijazi. “We need to show that when America is in pain, we are all in pain.”
Another gesture of kindness came when 160 students from Rancho Minerva Middle School in Vista, California sent letters of encouragement to their peers in El Paso. The idea stemmed from activity on social media and the kids wanted to do something positive in a time of grief and uncertainty.
Yes, El Paso is trying it’s best to regain a degree of normalcy. Residents want to set aside the pain and enjoy life again. They want to go to a local club, attend a neighborhood carne asada cookout or celebrate a quinceañera with family and friends. The recovery will take time however, because El Paso was hand picked for a violent crime by an “invader” who hates Mexicans. And when this punk finally goes to trial and prosecutors seek the death penalty, old wounds will be freshly opened. Then again, perhaps a guilty verdict will finally bring closure.